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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Photos for Mac: Quick answers to simplified questions

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.


[This story was updated on April 8, 2015. If you want to know more about Photos for Mac, you should pre-order my ebook. If you order it now you’ll get the first half of the book immediately, even as I’m writing the second half!]

After my Photos for Mac overview appeared on TidBITS, I’ve been pelted with questions about Apple’s forthcoming replacement for iPhoto and Aperture. Presented here, then, are quick answers to simplified questions about Photos for Mac.

I keep my existing iPhoto/Aperture library on an external drive. Will the program continue to use that location automatically?

Yes. Photos automatically detects if you’ve got an iPhoto or Aperture library and if you have only one on your system, it’ll use it as the basis for its new library without duplicating the media. If you’ve got more than one library, it’ll ask you which one you want to convert and set as the system library.

What happens to my old library?

It’s still there. The next time you try to open it, iPhoto or Aperture will remind you that it’s been migrated to Photos, but that’s just a reminder—you can keep using iPhoto as usual if you want. However, changes you make in libraries after they’re imported do not sync to the other app. You can’t import an iPhoto library to Photos, then edit something in iPhoto and expect to see it also edited in Photos. It doesn’t work that way.

What if I want to convert my library and save it in a different location?

Library conversions always happen in the same folder, for the very reason you specify. If you want to move the library later, that’s fine—if it moves to a different volume, that data will copy and the hard links will be disassociated. It’ll just be a regular library.

Can I have more than one Library?

Yes. Hold down option when launching Photos to pick a library or create a new one. Only one library can be designated as the System Photo Library. That’s the one that syncs with iCloud.

Can I organize my photos myself, in folders on my hard drive, and still use Photos?

Yes. There’s a “Copy items to the Photos library” setting in the General preferences tab. If you uncheck it, then Photos will consider the canonical version of that photo to be the file you dragged in. (This is signified by a small alias icon in the lower left corner of the image.) If you delete that photo later, Photos will no longer have access to the full-resolution image. However, referenced media files don’t sync to iCloud.

Will Photos support extensions to expand its capabilities?

Apple suggested at much when it announced Photos, but beyond support for sharing extensions there are no signs of addition extensions in 1.0.

Is Photos a direct replacement for iPhoto?

Yes. It’s basically iPhoto X — a reworked iPhoto that drops some iPhoto features but will feel quite familiar to iPhoto users.

Is Photos a direct replacement for Aperture?

No. It’s a step back from Aperture, and people who use Aperture to the fullest will probably be frustrated by this version’s limitations. People who didn’t take advantage of most of Aperture’s features might like it, though.

How does the new iPhoto handle burst mode pictures? Does it auto stack/group them?

iPhone burst mode photos come in as stacks. If you take 50 photos in a very short amount of time with an SLR, though, those seem to just come through as a whole bunch of individual pictures.

I don’t want to use iCloud with my photos. What do I do?

Just keep iCloud syncing turned off. That’s it. iCloud syncing is optional, not required.

I gave up and moved my library to Dropbox along with all my photos. Is there any reason to move back to iCloud?

The big advantage of Photos is that you don’t need to have your entire photo library anywhere except in iCloud. My iMac’s hard drive isn’t big enough to hold my iPhoto library, so I can’t sync it with Dropbox on this iMac. But I could open that same library in Photos, because almost none of the images would need to be stored locally.

If you’re someone who wants all your photos on your hard drive at all times, you could do that with Dropbox and Photos rather than iCloud.

Is sync to iCloud ‘all or nothing’? What I want is the ability to choose which photos sync from the Mac.

You can sync everything in the system Photos library, or nothing. That’s it.

iPhoto’s still on my Mac. Can I delete it?

Sure, if you want. Apple keeps it there just in case you want to get your iPhoto libraries in order before importing them. There’s no harm in keeping it around for a little while, but you can delete it if you need to. Keep in mind that deleting imported iPhoto libraries probably won’t save you much space.

Can I still sync photos to my iOS devices via iTunes?

Yep. It works just as you’d expect—choose Photos as the app you’d like to sync from, then you can sync everything, just certain albums, only favorites, or even all the photos from a recent period like the last week or last month.

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